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frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair

Regular blog here, 'microblog' there

Many of my traditional blog post live on this site, but a great majority of my social-style posts can be found on my much-busier microbloging site at updates.passthejoe.net. It's busier because my BlogPoster "microblogging" script generates short, Twitter-style posts from the Linux or Windows (or anywhere you can run Ruby with too many Gems) command line, uploads them to the web server and send them out on my Twitter and Mastodon feeds.

I used to post to this blog via scripts and Unix/Linux utilities (curl and Unison) that helped me mirror the files locally and on the server. Since this site recently moved hosts, none of that is set up. I'm just using SFTP and SSH to write posts and manage the site.

Disqus comments are not live just yet because I'm not sure about what I'm going to do for the domain on this site. I'll probably restore the old domain at first just to have some continuity, but for now I like using the "free" domain from this site's new host, NearlyFreeSpeech.net.

Thu, 06 Dec 2012

Feeling my way around GNOME 3.6 in the Fedora 18 Beta

Thanks to readers who have helped me, and to the Fedora Project for offering a very solid GNOME 3.x environment in what is now the Fedora 18 beta, I'm getting the hang of working in GNOME 3.6 (as opposed to the GNOME 3.4 version of the desktop environment in Debian Wheezy).

My previous complaints centered on what I thought were the absence of the "Connect to Server" and "Create Empty File" functions in the Nautilus file manager, now pretty much called Files in the world of GNOME.

Read the rest of this post

Sun, 18 Nov 2012

GNOME 3 update: 'Connect to Server' lives in GNOME 3.5/3.6, I rant about features being moved and removed, and I fix my GNOME 3.4 problem in Debian Wheezy

In my test of the Fedora 18 Alpha release, I was left thinking the "connect to server" feature in the Nautilus file manager disappeared in versions 3.5.x and 3.6.x of the GNOME desktop environment.

Thanks to readers, I learned that "connect to server" has moved to a separate application that you call from the shell with the not-so-friendly name Nautilus-connect-server, as seen in the image above.

You can still get to ftp, sftp, secure and unsecure webDAV and Windows shares via this application. Again, it's a separate application from Nautilus proper. And when you do call it and go to a server, Nautilus is the application that opens. It's like using Gigolo with Thunar in Xfce, though Thunar has recently added the ability to go to remote servers without Gigolo's help.

Yes, GNOME is separating a feature from its file manager while Xfce is adding that same feature to its own file manager.

What do you think of that?

I am happy that "connect to server" remains in GNOME 3, but I do have something to complain about:

One thing that seems to be missing from Nautilus in Fedora 18 is the ability to create an empty file from within the file manager with the "Create New Document" feature. I do this all the time: I create an empty file, open it in Gedit and then write the file and name it. It's already in the exact directory where I want it. Without this feature, I have to open Gedit, start the file, name it, then navigate to where I want it to be and finally save the file.

It's not a huge deal to create the file in Gedit, then save it where I want it. But this is another case of a feature ("Create New Document") disappearing in Nautilus because the developers feel it's no longer needed. It's absence adds an extra step to my workflow.

I use "Create New Document." I will miss it. It's absence is not a huge inconvenience. But this removal of functionality doesn't help me, or anybody else, in any way.

In this same vein, I'm glad you can still "connect to server" in GNOME 3, but why take the functionality out of Nautilus proper and put it in a hard-to-find, poorly named Nautilus-connect-server? The feature didn't die, but it's harder to access. How does that help?

Heading back to GNOME 3.4.2 in Debian Wheezy, I did fix my problem with not having a desktop at all when I logged into the system. After countless reinstalls of gnome-session and gnome-panel, which sometimes worked for a brief time but usually didn't at all, I followed some advice:

  • I created a new user account in my system.

Surprisingly (or not), that account had a working desktop. And a much faster desktop. When my original user account worked, logging in used to take a full minute or more. Now I could log in and have a working desktop in a few seconds. And the shell responded faster to commands. Or so it seemed.

With this knowledge in hand, I went into my original, non-working account in a virtual console using ctrl-alt-F2, logged in and got rid of the entire .config directory in my home directory:

$ rm -r .config

OK, that wasn't the first thing I did. First I tried to get rid of everything in ~.config that might have had something to do with GNOME. That didn't bring back my ability to log in and use GNOME Shell.

Only killing out the entire .config brought back my GNOME 3/Shell desktop -- and with all the speed that my "new" account had.

Sure, I lost more than a few settings. But I now have a working, seemingly faster user account in GNOME 3 in Debian Wheezy.

Yeah, I thought GNOME 3.6 had a lot of speed improvements over GNOME 3.4, but I think cobwebs in my ~.config ~/.config directory -- possibly due to changes over the Debian Testing cycle -- were killing my desktop performance. In any event, I'm happy enough with GNOME 3.4.2 as implemented in Debian Wheezy to stay there for a good long while.

And despite all the amputations in Nautilus, GNOME 3.6 is looking pretty good -- but not good enough to dump Debian Wheezy for it.

Note: My Chromium browser settings were also in ~.config ~/.config, but since I do sync them over privacy-robbing Google I was able to log in and get all of my bookmarks back in seconds. I lost all of my gPodder settings, which was more of a pain because my sync with gPodder.net was old and incomplete. I also lost my Gigolo setting (that sounds worse than it is).

Now that I've had time to think about it, the way to go about this is to change the name of .config -- maybe to config (with no dot). Then log out and log in. Then you haven't lost anything. GNOME will generate a new .config, and you can then move back in things like your Chromium, gPodder, Gigolo and other configurations that I lost in my haste to fix this GNOME Shell problem.

Another note for command-line newbies: In case you're not on board with all of the bash shell conventions, The "~" in ~.config ~/.config means that what follows it is in my home directory, e.g. /home/steven/.config, since my user name is steven. The ~ is a shortcut for "my home directory" that you can use in the shell to get there:

$ cd ~

is the same for me as:

$ cd /home/steven

Correction note: Thanks to reader Thor in the comments for fixing my syntax with "~" -- you always need a "/", which I have done above, striking through the original type and underlining the new. I should have tested this out before posting it. Like some or many of you, I'm still learning all this.

Sat, 17 Nov 2012

My new, old WordPress blog

Update: "Connect to Server" isn't gone, it just moved. Thanks go to readers who led me out of a non-networked Nautilus desert.

Here is the original post before I was brought to my senses:

If this is what awaits users of GNOME 3.6, I don't blame Ubuntu for sticking with Nautilus 3.4 and Linux Mint for forking the file manager and creating Nemo.

The GNOME developers have got to be kidding.

They take a file manager and REMOVE perfectly good features? They could have HIDDEN the features but left them intact.

Right now I can't figure out how to get the Nautilus in the Fedora 18 Alpha to open an FTP site. This is basic Nautilus functionality that this particular file manager has included for years and years.

And now it's gone?

I know this is a Fedora Alpha, but will the ability to browse FTP/SFTP and WebDAV be gone in future versions of Nautilus?

You can go to other machines on your network (which I never do, by the way) but not to FTP/SFTP and WebDAV (which I do all the time)?

Words fail me.

Even if the feature is really, really hidden, the fact that as a longtime GNOME and Nautilus user I can't find it -- and I do believe it's completely gone -- is so very, very wrong.

Will Gigolo allow me to browse networked files in the "new" Nautilus? Even the Thunar file manager doesn't need Gigolo anymore in Xfce 4.10 -- you can go directly to an FTP site and work directly in the file manager.

Unless I'm missing something, GNOME is screwing the pooch pretty good here.

Again, I know this is the Fedora Alpha, and right now it looks like it's running the development version of GNOME -- i.e. 3.5 instead of 3.6. But this is my first exposure to what Nautilus is supposed to become in 3.6 and thereafter, and I'm stunned. Not in a good way, either.

Thu, 15 Nov 2012

An essential GNOME Shell extension -- Impatience

So I'm testing the Ubuntu 12.10 GNOME Remix and notice that the Shell is more responsive in GNOME 3.6.0 than in the 3.4.2 build in Debian Wheezy, the system I'm using day-to-day.

I write about it and wonder if the performance boost is worth making an entire distro switch.

Later the same day I'm looking at my GNOME Shell Extensions via the extensions.gnome.org website (where you can find, install, configure and manage your GNOME Shell Extensions from either Firefox/Iceweasel or Epiphany/Web) and I come across Impatience.

Here is the description of Impatience:

Speed up the gnome-shell animation speed. By default it's sped up by a factor of 0.75 (i.e 25% faster), but this is configurable if you have gnome-shell 3.4 or later.

I install it, and boom -- hitting the "super" key and typing in the first few letters of an application brings up the icon as quickly as it does in the Ubuntu/GNOME 3.6.0 live environment.

Another problem solved in Debian Wheezy's GNOME 3.4.2. And a GNOME Shell Extension you must try right now.

Sat, 06 Oct 2012

GNOME 3: Renaming Nautilus as Files is a good idea

The more I think about it, GNOME's renaming of applications with a clear word as to what they do is a good thing to do.

The file manager Nautilus is now called Files.

The web browser Epiphany is now called Web.

I believe that Totem will eventually be Movies (or something like that).

Sure it makes it hard to manage these applications when you don't have them installed.

But when you install a Linux distribution (or eventually a BSD system that runs GNOME 3) with a complete GNOME environment, users won't be confused and need to scale a steep learning curve to figure out what they need to click to find ... Files. And the Web. And what they need to click to watch video (like "Movies").

I will ignore the fact that Epiphany (now Web) as a browser is not quite ready for prime time, and almost all users will need and want Firefox or Chromium/Chrome (or Opera for those who love Opera). Maybe Epiphany will get up to speed. By that I mean it will get Flash support.

But overall, simple declarative names for core applications is a good idea. Maybe they'll retain their descriptive package names (Epiphany, Nautilus, Totem, Gedit, etc.). Or maybe they'll have a GNOME-appended package name (gnome-web, gnome-files, gnome-movies, gnome-text-editor). That would make package management more sane.

But for users coming to the GNOME desktop for the first time, clear and simple application names gets them going that much faster.

Thu, 30 Aug 2012

In GNOME 3's Nautilus, where are my ftp bookmarks going?

All is not peaches, cream, furry kittens and puppies in GNOME 3. Why are the bookmarks I've created to FTP sites in Nautilus disappearing?

To write today's flurry of blog posts, I opted to use a bookmark in Xfce's Gigolo (yes, the app's name is extremely unfortunate) to access the server where these files live via sftp. At least Gigolo remembers where I've been. I'll try again with Nautilus.

You know you're all in with GNOME 3 when you go to the 'hot corner' in other desktop environments

Once you start mousing into the "hot corner" in Xfce, GNOME Classic, or plain old GNOME 2 -- all systems where there is no "hot corner," you pretty much know you've committed to GNOME 3 and GNOME Shell.

I'm not trying to be a GNOME Shell fanboy. It doesn't gain me any credibility not to hate on GNOME 3.

But I gave GNOME Shell a try (GNOME 3.4.2 in Debian Wheezy, to be exact), and despite having GNOME Classic, Xfce 4.8, even Fvwm and Fluxbox, on this machine, I'm using the Shell 98 percent of the time.

Once my muscle memory drags me over to the hot corner, it's nice for it to actually be there.

Getting Wine apps in the menu bar in GNOME 3 / Shell in Debian Wheezy

It's easy to get native Linux apps in the menu bar on the left side of the screen in GNOME 3 / GNOME Shell. They appear there when you run them from the Applications tab, and you can right-click on them in the bar and cause them to persist.

Not so with Wine apps. The only Wine app I'm really using right now is the photo editor/viewer IrfanView (p.s. I didn't need to add mfc42.dll to make it work!!), and when I run it from the Applications tab, I don't get an IrfanView icon in the GNOME menu bar. Instead I get a "windows loader" icon. And besides not persisting, that icon won't run IrfanView.

But this will work:

Go to the Applications tab (hot-corner or Super key), then click Applications, or just type the first few letters of your Wine application into the box.

At this point, don't start the app. Instead, drag the icon into the menu bar on the left side of the screen.

Now that icon will persist in the menu bar (is that what they call that thing on the left side of the screen, or is it the "application bar"? If you really know what's it's called, please let me know).

And the icon will launch the Wine app to which it's tied.

Problem solved -- for me, anyway (and hopefully for you).

How I got rid of multiple icons in the Applications tab of GNOME 3 ... temporarily anyway (but full solution is forthcoming)

Note: I figured it out!!! I will write up the solution to the multiple-application-icon problem tomorrow sometime in the near future.

Meanwhile, here's the entry I wrote earlier today:

I'm running GNOME Shell (aka GNOME 3) in Debian Wheezy, and when I go to the applications tab (mouse into the "hot corner," or hit the "super" key, then either click on Applications or just start typing the first letters of your desired app), I had been getting multiples of the same application, one version with a detailed icon, another with a fuzzy, bitmapped icon.

There are quite a few "recipes" on the Web for solving this problem, but most are from 2011, and with GNOME and the distribution in general undergoing a lot of changes, I wasn't optimistic that anything would work.

This easy fix did work for me, albeit temporarily; only in the current session. If you feel like trying it, it's easy enough. Basically open up a terminal and use your rootly powers (I use sudo for that purpose, but you can su to root if you wish) to do the following:

$ sudo update-menus

My multiple-icon problem was cleared up ... until I logged out. When I logged in again, I had multiple icons. I could run update-menus in a startup script, but that's not terribly elegant.

Tue, 14 Aug 2012

I'm back in GNOME 3 in Debian Wheezy and liking it

As much as hating GNOME 3/Shell would put me in good company, I find myself liking it just fine.

I installed Xfce 4.8 on this Wheezy laptop, and while I like that environment well enough, I've pretty much moved back to GNOME in the weeks since.

I'm OK with the hot corner, the virtual desktops that pop up (and go away) on demand and hitting the Windows/Super key to enter command/hot-corner mode.

I have the GNOME Tweak Tool, and I've installed a few GNOME 3 Extensions from the web site. But just a few. Most of the Extensions I've seen are fairly frivolous/unhelpful.

After I installed Wine (not as easy as it should be in 64-bit Debian) and then IrfanView, it took a little doing to get the photo viewing/editing application to show up in the GNOME 3 applications menu, and I still can't get it to show in the applications bar on the left (where it presents as a generic Wine launcher). No problems with that in Xfce, of course, but I can still "hot corner" my way to IrfanView whenever I want. I'm using Fotoxx half the time anyway, so that is less of a problem.

I still love Nautilus and Gedit, and while I continued using the GNOME text editor all of the time and Nautilus some of the time in Xfce, once I determined that the 3D effects in GNOME Shell take CPU when they're under way but give it back soon thereafter, I felt that the productivity boost was (and is) well worth it. Compared to what a Web browser sucks from CPU and memory (and often doesn't give back), GNOME Shell is thrifty.

I am in the process of looking into CentOS-derived Stella, which provides nearly all of the desktop packages and codecs I need day to day. But for my main production machine, I will be sticking with newer systems (Debian, Ubuntu, Fedora, or "other").